Helene Goldnadel


Why An Abused Child Aligns With A Parental Alienator?

As adults, when someone treats us poorly, we remove them from our lives, as in the case of divorce. A child cannot divorce their parent the same way that we divorce our spouse.

What happens is that the child develops an insecure attachment to the parent that is abusive toward them. In fact, the insecure attachment that the child forms with the abusive parent actually motivates them to become more strongly attached to the abusive parent.


While this seems counter intuitive to the adult mind, to a child it is the opposite. 
In a child's mind, if they reject the abusive parent they are more likely to endure worse consequences. They are more likely to starve, be neglected or suffer worse dangers in life. It is a survival instinct that they attach themselves more readily to the abusive parent to avoid these other bad consequences.


What happens when the parent is abusive to the child is that the child strives even harder to gain the parent's approval, regardless of the punishment that they may receive. It becomes the child's goal to establish a relationship with the abusive parent in any way that they possibly can.


Think of it this way: When we don't eat, we become hungry. If we go long enough without eating, we will experience side effect and symptoms of malnourishment and our body emits distress symptoms. Just because our body is sending out distress signals, it doesn't mean that we don't want to eat. Of course we do! When the opportunity to eat arises, we eat more.


It works the same way with a child. When a child is craving that attachment with a parent and doesn't get it, it doesn't mean that he or she no longer wants the attachment. It makes them want the attachment more. A child will strive to gain this attachment in any way possible.


From the child's point of view, there are no circumstances that exist that will make them choose to terminate that attachment with the abusive parent. To choose to terminate it would be risking their life and safety. No matter how bad that parent is, in the child's perspective, it is far better than what could happen to him or her.


The pattern of abuse or neglect that the child receives from the abusive parent, is viewed as being normal to the child because it is all that the child has ever known. It is what is the norm to him or her and it is incomprehensible that anyone else should live in a different way. To the child, everyone experiences the abuse that they do, so it is not wrong.


In the case of Alienation, when a child aligns him or herself with the abusive parent, they are doing so to attain this attachment, to gain approval and save themselves from the dangers that they could be facing if that parent was not a part of their lives. They align themselves with the abusive or alienating parent to gain their approval and feed their need for attachment.


Counter intuitive as it may be, this is the reality of how a child's mind works when it comes to an abusive or alienating parent. Don't get me wrong, the child would love for the parent to stop hurting him or her, but because the child loves that parent and needs to be attached to that parent, he or she will live with the consequences of abuse.

It isn't until that child starts to understand that the abusive or alienating behaviors are wrong, that they will be able to comprehend the need for change.

Also read: Stages of Play Development In Children

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